George Sampson has come a long way from the stage, writes Tara Brady, and the all-singing, all-dancing, all-acting man is still only 18
IF GEORGE SAMPSON didn’t exist, X-factor or The Voice or Britain’s Got Talent – take your pick – would have been forced to hire someone in to play a kid just like him. Back in 2007 an uncharacteristically enthusiastic Simon Cowell failed to persuade fellow Britain’s Got Talent jurors Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan to let Sampson, a brilliant 12-year-old street dance protégé, to progress to the series semi-finals.
Unbowed, the plucky little fellow went back on the streets of Warrington to prove his worth as a hoofer and earn extra cash for his single mum, a classroom assistant with five kids and a mortgage. He returned, triumphant, to Britain’s Got Talent series two a year later, winning £100,000 and a slot at the Royal Variety Performance.
“I never knew what I was stepping into,” he says. “I didn’t know what was beginning. It’s only now, four-and-a-half years later, that I’m half expecting what to expect. It still feels like it was only last year. It’s mad to think it was that long ago. It seems like a blur when I think back on it.”
Fourteen-and-a-half million viewers tuned in to ITV to see his victorious performance of Singin’ in the Rain. And just to complete the Cinderella story, we learned that George had been diagnosed with Scheuermann’s disease, a condition that affects developing bones in children and teenagers and which is associat- ed with curvature of the spine. Doesn’t that make dancing just that bit trickier to master?
“It doesn’t help,” he shrugs. “I’m not as flexible as I should be. But it doesn’t really get in the way. When I’m dancing and I’m moving I don’t even know it’s there. It’s when I’m still or sitting down that it starts to cramp.”
Is it a kind of therapy, gaining control over unruly, uncooperative bits of his anatomy?
“Well, it is,” he says. “I’m so skinny and light I kind of know what I’m doing with myself at all times. I know whatever happens I can carry myself and stay on my feet. My back gives me problems here and there but I’m in control at all times. It’s nothing too major. Nothing I can’t manage. And I’m hoping to grow out it. Give me another year and I’ll be fine.”
There are no other dancers in his family and he has only a vague sense memory of how he came to tap his way toward TV glory. He started when he was six, he says. “I remember watching a show and I saw this guy do a back flip. And it changed me. I just thought, that’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m going to do. And that was that.”
Post- BGT, Cowell’s label Syco nabbed Sampson to make a dance video. But it was not the impresario’s first medium. Sampson was about to discover talent television’s dirtiest open secret: it pays to come second. (Just ask Susan Boyle or Flawless.)
The young breakdancer spent a month in London’s West End in the hip-hop musical Into the Hoods. But in those pre-diversity days – a whole year before we became accustomed to touring blockbuster dance shows – Cowell and Sampson quickly ran out of things to do.
“I have seen it change,” says Sampson. “It’s a bit difficult for me because when I came along there weren’t that many things for a dancer to do. I went to the West End. And that was the biggest highlight that any dancer could look forward to. But now there are so many TV shows and contracts out there for dancers. It’s brilliant to see how it’s progressed.”
Cowell hoped to reposition the youngster as a recording artist. In this spirit, Sampson recorded a double-sided single, Get Up on the Dance Floor/headz Up, for the X Factor
George Sampson (above) and (far page, third from right) in Streetdance 2